Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

When the Crotchety Kid picked up a bass guitar at the beginning of the seventies, he was completely ignorant of harmonic structure. As a first step to composing bass lines, he bought and read a book in the Teach Yourself series. Those books had distinctive yellow and blue covers, which served as a stamp of excellent quality – like V.S.O.P. on a bottle of brandy. Teach Yourself Music covered basic music theory (staves, bars, the pitch and duration of notes, clefs, time signatures, keys, etc.), but it went well beyond that. It also had a section on the history, structure and changing styles of popular music. Among other things, it gave a recipe for the perfect pop song. And it offered as an exemplar, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.

The song about the sooty stuff that stings the peepers was written by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach for the Broadway show, Roberta, in 1933. The definitive version was recorded by The Platters in 1959, but several respected jazz musicians have added it to their repertoires. I’ve gathered a few of the best into this Spotify playlist:

The grown up Crotchety Man has still not written a song, but that Teach Yourself book certainly improved his understanding of harmony. It was his introduction to intervals and triads, to consonance and dissonance, and to cadences and modulations. The yellow and blue edition is no longer available, but there seems to be a paperback version in print. If you want to learn about the theory of music this would be a good place to start.

The Platters

Footnote:

This article by James Ferguson, published in the Financial Times, 17th May 2021, says it all – and better than I could.

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